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Coronavirus Scams Targeting Businesses
Small businesses have always been a ripe target for scammers, but the Coronavirus has magnified that threat.
Scammers are trying to cash in on business owners’ financial worries and to exploit companies whose employees are juggling multiple jobs or working remotely. Impostor web sites, spearphishing scams and other schemes can drain thousands of dollars from an unsuspecting business. It only takes one mistake to expose sensitive data or trigger a financial loss.
Learning to recognize common scam techniques is one of the best ways to avoid fraud losses.
This roundup of current scams provides tips for helping you protect your business. It’s important that you share the information with your employees.
At the end of this post, you’ll find links to videos and tips to cybersecurity information for your business.
One more thing: If you encounter a scam, report it to the Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs. We’re all in this together.
Impostor web sites:
Scammers often set up fake sites to snare people who search the internet for help. For example, scammers have set up impostor Small Business Administration sites to trick business owners looking for government issued Paycheck Protection Program loans. Other scammers set up fake computer tech sites and tag common search terms lure victims.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited emails, calls, texts or pop-up ads offering government loans or that announce your computer has a virus. They are scams.
- Use official channels to find government loans or Cares Act assistance for businesses. Start at the Cuyahoga County’s Small Business Resource Center. Assistance also is available by phone at 216-452–9714, from 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
- Know that scam sites can show up in search results and be inserted into ad feeds on social media.
- When type in a URL or search on an agency name, be careful that you don’t “fat finger” or mistype. Some scammers create sites meant to capitalize on mistyped URLs. And doublecheck before you click on a search result: Government addresses usually end in “.gov” or “.us”
Sophisticated phishing scams:
These emails or texts seem to come from your boss, a coworker, or a client. The sender may ask you to rush a payment or send them sensitive information, such as an account number, password or staff or client Social Security numbers. With employers operating remotely, these are a big danger for small businesses.
Some phishing scams target just one person in the organization, a technique called spearphishing. The impostors do enough homework on your company’s website or public social media posts to make you believe they’re a colleague. (They might say they just talked to one of your co-workers. One impostor reportedly complimented a scam target about how well his son’s sports team was doing.)
- Treat any request for a rushed payment or a change to an account or payment method with suspicion – even if it looks like it comes from the boss.
- Make it a practice to verify any request for sensitive data or payment changes directly with the person making the request. Use a phone number you know is legitimate to verify – not the number provided in the suspect email or text.
- Make sure far-flung employees know how to contact each other quickly. It can help to have a point person who has to sign off on any routing or payment changes.
- Proactively shore up your cybersecurity. Find tips, tools and videos at staysafeonline.org and https://csrc.nist.gov/
Counterfeit check scams:
Fake check scammers find a ruse to write a big check to you – for example, they may order your products or services and then send you a check for more than the amount you agreed on. When you deposit the check, they produce a reason you should send all or part of the money elsewhere right away. Scammers know that banks will make money from deposited checks available to you before the deposited check clears -- but when the counterfeit check is discovered, the bank takes those funds back. If you spend against the check, you either wind up paying with your own funds or overdrawing your account.
- Be skeptical of sales that aren’t typical for you – for example, the order is large or the order begins to get complicated.
- Be wary of anyone who sends a check for a larger amount than agreed on and then requests a refund or asks you to pay another business with the overage.
- You may be able to access funds from a deposited check before it’s processed by the bank it’s written on. Never ship merchandise or spend funds until you verify with your bank that the check cleared the issuing bank. It can take a week or more for a bank to identify a counterfeit check.
Fake order scams:
A fake order scam is a cousin to a counterfeit check scam, except it involves someone using a stolen identity to place a large order, and the payment is arranged through in-store credit. In one recent example, someone posing as the business manager at an out-of-state university scammed a store by arranging for store credit at a local business to purchase furniture for students. The goods were shipped to a third state – where they disappeared – before the loan fraud was discovered.
- Be skeptical of large sales that are atypical for your business – the order’s significantly larger, the client is new to you, or the shipping arrangement is unusual and requires shipping goods out of state, when another supplier would be cheaper or closer.
- If a large buyer applies for store credit, think critically about whether a large organization would be likely to use store credit to fund a purchase.
- Figure out a way you can independently verify the order by phone, for example, by using the organization’s online directory or main phone to reach the alleged buyer.
- Do an online search for the buyer’s name, institution and the word “scam.” Every once in a while, you might find an alert issued on the scam.
Robocallers target businesses with fake offers of government or business-to-business help to get through Coronavirus. Current examples include bogus calls offering you help getting a government small business loan, sell you protective gear, help adjusting your Google listing or assistance lowering existing credit payments. Ignore robocalls and any other call purporting to be from a government agency or company you don’t ordinarily business with.
- Never give any sensitive or information to someone who calls you.
- Let calls go to voicemail if possible to avoid interacting with scammers. Do not call back numbers that called you out of curiosity – that only gets you more scam calls.
- To connect with government assistance, only go through official government sites -- Cuyahoga County’s Small Business Resource Center or the SBA’s Coronavirus assistance page at sba.gov/coronavirus.
Helpful resources for keeping your business safe:
Working Securely During COVID-19
StaySafeOnline.org’s COVID-19 security resources library
The Federal Trade Commission’s small business Coronavirus blog
Cybersecurity information from the National Institute of Standards and Technology
Where to report scams:
Report a scam to the Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs by calling 216-443-SCAM (7226) or using the Report-A-Scam form at consumeraffairs.cuyahogacounty.us
The Department of Consumer Affairs’ mission is to make sure people who live or shop in Cuyahoga County get what they pay for.